A juvenile accused of destroying a police car during a violent strike by SL Garment factory workers in November remained in Prey Sar prison yesterday, despite the Court of Appeal having granted him bail.
Sary Bothchakrya, a lawyer from the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) representing the suspect, said the 15-year-old had been granted bail because he has a history of mental illness, but that he would probably not be released until next week.
“Now he is in the jail while we are completing the bail documents for the court to process,” she said. “He will be released from the jail next week, I think.”
Chim Sambo, 27, a relative of the detained youth, told the Post yesterday that the suspect was not involved in violence between police and factory workers. Police arrested the boy, he continued, while he was collecting scrap metal to sell after the men who burned the police car had already left the scene.
“Because he was scared, he told the police he had done something wrong and the Phnom Penh court charged him and he was ordered to be detained at Prey Sar prison,” Sambo said.
“We are very pleased to hear the Court of Appeal decided to release him on bail,” he said. “We hope the court will drop the charges later.”
The SL Garment workers’ strike began on August 12 last year and turned deadly on November 12 when 49-year-old food vendor Eng Sokhom died from a gunshot wound to the chest after police opened fire on hundreds of SL demonstrators.
Thirty-eight people were arrested after the attack, but only two young men remain in detention – the 15-year-old and Vanny Vannak, 19.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at CLEC, dismissed the allegations against the boy. “The appeal court judge should drop the charges of intentional violence and damage to public property because they were not involved in it,” he said.
The release of the youth on bail was an attempt to avoid embarrassment by a justice system that needed someone to blame, according to Cambodian Center for Human Rights head Ou Virak, who has closely followed the case.
“It’s one of those cases where they grabbed the closest people to the incident. The boy is well-known in the area; it’s known that he is mentally unstable,” Virak said. “Had police investigated at all they would have known that. He’s mentally unstable, underage and held in an adult prison.”
“He’s being released because they need an excuse. They don’t want to be embarrassed, but they should be."